From our blood cells to our nerves to our very DNA, Vitamin B12 is a critical vitamin for our bodies. It’s so important, in fact, that our stomachs have developed special receptors for it. But there’s a lot of confusion about this important nutrient. For example, B12 deficiency is not obvious, and some of its symptoms are irreversible (nerve damage for example). On the flip side, despite what some supplements promise, it won’t boost your energy if you’re not deficient.
Why do we need B12? What does it do in the body?
Humans need Vitamin B12 for life - it is absolutely essential. Vitamin B12 is actually a series of very closely related, rather complicated molecules. One of its major functions is to make DNA for new cell growth (no new DNA translates to no new cells, including blood cells). B12 shortages are not always obvious, and can have damaging effects. Coupled with less energy and physical stamina, you can see why skimping on this vitamin can really affect your health.
Is there a form that’s best? What should we be looking for on labels?
We prefer methylcobalamin (MeB12). It’s the form of B12 you’d find the most of in our bodies and in foods. However, supplements and fortified foods tend to use a different form - cyanocobalamin - because it has a longer shelf life than methylcobalamin. Our bodies need to convert cyanocobalamin to MeB12, but there are potential problems with conversions. Cyanocobalamin also contains a cyanide molecule instead of a methyl one, but the amount of cyanide in cyanocobalamin is tiny and far less than what we get from healthy foods. So despite what you might read on the web, it is not a safety concern.